Book Reviews

Published on May 19th, 2022 | by Connor Hultman

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Book Reviews by Conor Hultman: “The Vacation,” by Garth Miró

The Vacation
by Garth Miró
Expat Press ($16)

The vacation: an annual middle-American tradition, the business-begrudged respite from Capital, prescribed to stave off madness, depression, and vitamin-D deficiency. It is a time to reconnect with loved ones and tan your skin. Summer holidays are a beloved institution.

And every good institution deserves to be challenged. Garth Miró’s debut novel, The Vacation, takes the cruise ship as setting for rank, cynical horror. Jaws might have been the first story to make us afraid of vacations, but Miró makes us disgusted with them. He writes of bursting sun-poisoned skin, excrescence and vomitus, seas of alcohol, and a limitless buffet. The effect is a limiting of humanity, making one feel worse for being homo sapiens.

Our main character, Hugo, is a few days out of being hooked on heroin. He is going on this budget cruise with his wife CC, a rich heiress, to trick her into revealing an infidelity, thus securing a divorce. They are accompanied by CC’s brother, Vincent, a dissolute rake with degenerate tastes. Soon, what seemed like a tacky holiday cruise reveals itself as something stranger.

In many ways, The Vacation reminds me of a book from a little over a hundred years ago: Le Jardin des supplices, or The Torture Garden, by Octave Mirbeau. Like Miró’s novel, The Torture Garden largely takes place on a ship (in Mirbeau’s, an unemployed Frenchman pretends to be a scientist on an expedition to China). There is a juxtaposition in both novels of agony and pleasure, and both use shocking imagery to illustrate hypocrisy and denounce bourgeois morality. However, whereas Mirbeau’s villain is a classic femme fatale, the villain in The Vacation seems to be the ship itself. Our own worst enemy has become the environment we make for ourselves.

While the subject matter is fairly heavy, and I do think it classifies as horror (in message, if not content), what leavens out The Vacation and makes it into something surprising is its piquant sense of humor, lambent through every line. A description of the disembarkment from the cruise:

“We were off the boat. It was off to the races. A frothing. A mania. It was a desperate sandal-flopping there on the beach and it spilled up into the small plywood town, a tourist trap of shops and restaurants and overpriced bars constructed to battle these pale bogeys. People practice their dreadful Spanish. Yo soy…therefore…yo comprar. They had so much equipment! For scuba, paddle boarding, tanning. Tackle for fishing. Gizmos for finding gold. It bulged. I was worried it wouldn’t hold. These tourists saw meat and rushed forth and a din rose up and cluttered the air with sweat and sparks. They sky was yellow. It was so humid I couldn’t tell what I was breathing. Sure wasn’t air. Smell, maybe?”

This humor has teeth, and a will to live. The hilarity Miró finds in the revolting, the alienating, and the pathetic elevates The Vacation to a classic. The book’s cynicism is both well-earned and ultimately positive. This summer, self-loathing comes with a built-up immunity to irony and a contemporary reimagining of the American confidence man. Garth Miró’s debut novel will send you on a trip. Bon voyage!

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